Youngkin touts nuclear power as Surry plant turns 50

Published 6:08 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

Gov. Glenn Youngkin visited Surry County on July 10 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dominion Energy’s Surry nuclear plant.

Surry, the older of Virginia’s two nuclear power plants, began operating its first reactor in December 1972 and its second in May 1973. The site is located near the southern bank of the James River, about 7 miles from the town of Surry and 12 miles from Smithfield.

“At the foundation of aspirations for zero-carbon electricity, you find Surry and North Anna,” Youngkin said, referring to the newer of Virginia’s two nuclear plants, which began operating in 1978 on the bank of the North Anna River in Louisa County, 30 miles outside the Richmond metro area.

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The Virginia Clean Economy Act, a state law passed in 2020, mandates Dominion transition to 100% carbon-free energy sources by 2045.

Like all U.S. nuclear plants, Surry was originally licensed to operate for 40 years. In 2003, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the plant’s continued operation through 2033 and in 2021 extended its license again to 2053, making Surry the only plant in the nation licensed to operate for double its original lifespan.

“These are the only facilities in the nation with an 80-year license and that speaks to the extraordinary leadership, extraordinary workforce and operations, and the vision that all come together here at Surry,” Youngkin said.

Though now 50 years old, the Surry plant is far from obsolete, contends Dominion’s newly appointed chief nuclear officer, Eric Carr. The plant, Carr said, now uses drones to inspect reactor containment and other “cutting-edge” technology.

“These stations run continuously on 18-month cycles and stop only for refueling regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing,” said Dominion President and CEO Robert Blue.

That consistency “translates into affordability,” Blue said.

Dominion, on July 1, announced it would lower electricity rates by $14 per month.

Surry and North Anna Surry, according to Blue, collectively account for nearly 90% of the state’s low- or zero-carbon power.

“With more electric vehicles, more data centers joining the grid, demand for power is rising rapidly,” Blue said. “We’ll need nuclear power to meet that increased demand.”

Youngkin used the opportunity to tout nuclear’s place in his 2022 “all of the above” energy plan, which calls for at least one small, modular nuclear reactor, or SMR, in Virginia within the next decade.

A Middleburg-based company, Green Energy Partners LLC, announced in April that it planned to break ground within 18 months on a first-of-its-kind combination data center and hydrogen fuel hub eventually powered by its own SMRs on 641 acres adjacent to the Surry nuclear plant.

“This is a wonderful time to be in Surry County,” said County Administrator Melissa Rollins, calling the rural county of roughly 6,500 residents a “land of opportunity.”

Surry Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Elliott noted there had been “a lot of apprehension” among residents in 1973 at the thought of a nuclear plant in Surry, but contended Dominion – then known as the Virginia Electric and Power Co. or VEPCO – has made good on its promises of safety over the decades.

“We applaud them for being a great partner for Surry County,” Elliott said.

The Surry plant, according to Dominion, employs roughly 900 workers and in 2022 paid $15.4 million in taxes. The plant produces roughly 14% of Virginia’s electricity.